So I took my lunch hour today down at the Sommet Center, to witness a press conference/rally to celebrate the new lease agreement struck between the local investors and the mayor of Nashville, Karl Dean. It was a feel-good, backslapping affair that was, frankly, well deserved. If you look at how the ownership situation has evolved since that day in May when Craig Leipold had announced his intention to sell the Predators to Jim Balsillie, you'd have to say that it's been a remarkable achievement to have a predominantly local group preparing to take the helm at this time. Just think of all the things that have come together to make this possible;
Col. John "Hannibal" Smith heartily approves
1. A strong effort by Our Team Nashville, a hastily assembled group of volunteers who worked hard to build local support throughout the summer. During today's proceedings chairman Ron Samuels upped his organization's goal to achieving 15,000 average paid attendance, and noted that they've got a long list of prospects who have been waiting to make sure local ownership took over the team before making a commitment. But as Samuels noted, that time is now, and "we know where you live and we're coming to get you." Credit also has to be given to local sports radio host George Plaster, who has been a driving force with Our Team Nashville and has shamelessly used his bully pulpit in the afternoon sports talk venue to push this effort.
2. The new mayor didn't ask for this situation to drop immediately in his lap after taking office in September, but despite the fact that the mayoral campaign was about more typical concerns like schools, crime, and taxes, he and his team worked hard to move this process along as speedily as they could, while trying to establish protections for the taxpayers of Nashville. Nobody can say that he rolled over at the whim of a sports team, but instead conducted a business-like negotiation, balancing the costs and benefits to both parties in desigining the new agreement. Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen heaped lavish praise on Dean's efforts over the last few weeks.
3. The investors themselves, a disparate group of individuals that figuratively put their money where there mouths are in terms of keeping NHL hockey in Nashville. They also jumped on the opportunity to bring in Boots Del Biaggio, an established NHL ownership presence who brings more than just financial assistance to the group.
4. Preds fans should also thank Craig Leipold for showing extreme patience and making an extended effort to complete the sale to local interests. He could have fought harder to complete a deal with Balsillie in order to take his money and run, but instead chose to take the long slow road to keep the team in town.
5. Speaking of Balsillie, credit also has to be given to whatever prompted him to start that season-ticket drive up in Hamilton. In one stroke, he put the lie to any talk of his making an honest effort to make things work in Nashville, and if anything, it stoked the flames of local resentment and motivated fan-based groups like Save The Predators and Operation Eagle's Nest, which raises funds to buy tickets for use by military personnel and their families at nearby Ft. Campbell.
For me the most amusing part of the rally came when J.D. Elliott of the Metro Sports Authority stepped up to the podium. To review, there are three steps left in the sales process here; the Sports Authority and the Metro Council need to approve the Sommet Center lease changes, and the NHL Board of Governors needs to approve the sale of the team (note: according to an article in this morning's Tennessean, the NHL vote could occur first, as early as November 29). So when Mr. Elliot stepped up to the microphone, he was the only person present who could still sour the party.
After mentioning what a great day it was for the city and congratulating all the parties involved, he noted that the Sports Authority would act quickly to go through the contract and ensure that it met the needs to the city. I'm paraphrasing, but it went "we hope to soon review the details of the agreement and move forward with approval if it turns out to be in the best interest of the city of Nashville - which we all think it is."
In other words, the mayoral camp has kept the other parties in the loop on these details as they've developed, and the agreement that's been worked out should pass muster with the rest of city government.
The hockey fans of Middle Tennessee appear to have been given something to be thankful for; relief from the propect of having their team swept out of town just when it became competitive. And speaking of competitive, the team takes a recent 8-1-2 record into tonight's contest in St. Louis, where they hope to avenge the shootout loss to the Blues suffered last Saturday night here in Nashville. Martin Erat was also today named the NHL's Third Star for last week after racking up 3 goals and 3 assists, including two of each against Columbus on November 12.